Bombing of Darwin

The bombing of Darwin, Australia happened 75 years ago.

Soon after Pearl Harbor took place in December of ’41, the Australian government decided to evacuate the city of Darwin. Darwin was an important Allied base on the northern edge of Australia, providing access to Asia and the pacific.

Most residents of Darwin loaded onto ships that ferried them south to the bigger cities like Perth and Melbourne and Sydney. Passengers took turns manning the scopes – looking, watching, waiting, scanning the surface of the water for periscopes.

Australia had a good hunch that the Japanese would come for Darwin sooner than later.

Sure enough in February, just a couple months after Pearl Harbor, the Japanese dropped bombs on the Darwin base and the surrounding cities. Hundreds died on the first day, residents and military members both. A destroyer called the USS Peary sunk after being hit by five bombs. (USS Peary still rests in the Darwin harbor today, under about 90 feet of water.)

The Japanese air raids continued over the next few years until America finally ended the war with atom bombs at Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

Japanese ambassadors, Australian governors and American military members were all present for the 75 year anniversary memorial service this past weekend.

All Eyes On Me

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You’d think I was a supermodel, but they only want me for my money.

In Bali everyone honks at me. I can’t go 20 feet down the street without being yelled at.  A taxi driver sees me from a mile away, slows down, and starts banging on his horn to get my attention. On a good day I ignore every single one of them. On a bad day, the attention drives me fucking crazy.

My gut reaction is anger and protest. Usually I just pretend I don’t notice. Otherswise I’d spend 8 hours a day smiling and bowing and saying “no thank you.”

One of my favorite feelings in the whole wide universe is walking into a coffee shop, sitting in the back corner by the window, listening to music and watching the movie of the world go by. It’s the happy place I travel to when everyone’s staring at me.

I try to slow the anger when I feel they’re using me. Why? Mostly because I can’t change anything by lashing out.

But also because these experiences give me sympathy. They give me sympathy for women who are all too used to getting stared at, followed, propositioned. They give me sympathy for people who’ve NEVER been able, physically, to blend into the crowd. They even give me sympathy for rich (by american standards) people, because I’m sure your friends and family know you’ve got money.

When I was at the market last week I few things, among them was a bag of chips. The cashier stopped in the middle of ringing me up and said, “These are 50,000 – is it OK?” 50,000 idk is about $3.50 usd. The cashier was essentially asking me, “are you really going to spend so much money on a bag of chips? That same money could buy dinner for four.”

That sir, is a good point.

Travel for Dummies

7 years ago when I was traveling through Europe, I remember showing up to a random town in Italy, stepping off the train and thinking, “Well, time to go knock on some doors and see if I can find a place to sleep.”

These days, I book my airbnb as soon as I’m done buying a plane ticket to a new country. When I arrived in Bali, my airbnb host arranged a taxi pickup at the Denpasar airport. Now that I’m here, I call an Uber whenever I need a ride. I use the “go-jek” app on my iPhone to order delivery from any restaurant in town. I have three different mobile banking apps that allow me to constantly check on my funds, set travel notices, and transfer money between accounts. I know the currency rate before I go, and thanks to Facebook groups, I already know exactly how and where to exchange cash. The world has never been smaller or better connected.

World Travelers used to have to be super savvy. World Travelers used to wear fanny packs and Crocodile Dundee hats, and they had to keep all of their cash squirreled away in secret money belts.

A smart phone is all you need now. Somebody has already written a blog, posted a video, and documented the exact kind of trip that you want to take.

The way I see it, the internet has taken the initial shock out of travel. Showing up, finding a place to stay, getting local currency – these are the principal pains-in-the-ass that the internet has improved for all of us.

But the magical gems are still out there, buried in the desert. Because once you plop down in a new part of the world, then you start to meet people. And those people plug you into the culture – which is what you still can’t get online – the local markets, the smells, the sun, the smiles. Now the gate opens and the journey jumps off.

Desert Eskimo

Tourists can be a coffee stain on an otherwise flawless piece of art. We leave trash in beautiful places. We talk down to the locals. We buy a lot of plastic shit and cram it into our suitcases like nervous squirrels prepping for winter.

But also I appreciate tourists. A tourist has chosen to spend his/her money on an experience. They’ve put themselves at a little bit of a disadvantage (long flights, strange food, a pause on all the comforts of home). I appreciate the Japanese families and the Singaporeans and the Australians. They all just wanna see the sunset man.

After you know how vulnerable it feels to be a tourist, lost in a strange land, staring dumbly at your map, fumbling to open the door while a whole room of locals watches… real fast you gain empathy for people who are out of their element.

Tourists aren’t dumb even though they sure seem dumb. They’re just a cow in a tree, an eskimo in the desert, or a French King in a Mac store – taking pictures because they can’t believe the movie taking place in front of their eyes.

Gratitude is a Slimy Salmon

pool time

Grateful people are handsome and lucky, but ungrateful people walk around feeling soggy like rotten peaches. Grateful people know they won the lottery when they got accidentally born into the weird and wonderful movie of life. But ungrateful people can’t see past their noses, they are the punching bags of the mean-spirited universe.

Really what I want to do is float through life in a never-ending, lazy river of gratitude. The problem is that gratitude is slippery.

After walking 100 miles and sleeping in a tent for four nights, you can be damn sure that I’m grateful for a roof and my king size bed. That first night home, my gratitude is a roaring fire. But how many nights can I spend in my big comfy bed before my gratitude wick burns down to a stub? 30 days? A year?

COMFORT = BEING ASLEEP. I heard this equation from one of my favorite podcasters. Now the idea is lodged between my ears, like when a little kid pushes his head through the space between two porch railings and then, when he tries to back out of it…

All the things we associate with comfort also lead to sleep: shelter, warm food, sofas and beds. The opposite end of the spectrum is awakeness, chattering your teeth in the cold of the night.

When I travel I suddenly want to smoke cigarettes. I want to buy them and keep them in my chest pocket and walk around smoking them. Because the act of traveling shakes me by the shoulders and slaps me into a new state of awareness. Suddenly I’m grateful for a tiny cup of espresso, a clean shirt, and an internet connection. A conversation with a stranger who could’ve easily been an ass but was kind instead.

Meanwhile, consumer culture is busy selling me comfort through the motivating principle of fear:

“What if you ram your Ford Taurus into a pine tree? Don’t you want the highest level of health/auto/life insurance? And don’t you need an iron gate surrounding your house while you’re at it? What if you drop your phone into an angry pit of scorpions, shouldn’t you have this adamantium plus also waterproof phone case, you know, just in case?”

I’m hesitant to buy because I have a hunch that comfort is the sneaky assassin of gratitude. I’m sorry but I’m just not afraid of lightning strikes or impromptu kidnappings or credit card theft.

And while I’m busy watching all of the news reports that tell me, “don’t travel out into that dangerous world,” comfort the silent killer is creeping up behind me with a pillow in his hands.